“Go out into the world and do well. But more importantly, go out into the world and do good.”
— Minor Myers
Minor Myers was president of Illinois Wesleyan University when I was a student there, majoring in creative writing and dabbling in political science, philosophy and working on my Spanish language skills.
As I look ahead to a new year, I wanted to share this quote with you, as it sums up perfectly the balance I’ve always tried to achieve in my work. For me, professional success is not only a measure of how much money you make or the respect you earn (although those do matter to me), but also of how much good you’re able to do in the world.
Through my first PR agency job, I chanced into public affairs, and I credit much of my path with that lucky accident.
Public affairs is a specialization focused on government relations. Either you work on behalf of the government to help them educate the public around a certain program or policy, or your client is a corporation hoping to influence public opinion and legislators in favor of their preferred policies.
I loved working at this firm, where I got to work on campaigns for the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood. But, alas, I was one of 9 interns, and only one was to be hired.
My next job was in the public affairs division of one of the largest PR agencies in the world, where I worked on government, corporate and nonprofit clients. At this firm, I had so many amazing opportunities. Speech writing for CEOs, working closely with major news outlets in Chicago, and learning from some of the best talent in the industry.
But there was also a shadow side to working for a big agency — I didn’t get to choose my assignments. And, inevitably, I spent quite a bit of time on what I felt to be the wrong side of a controversial public issue.
It was still early in my career, but I saw that if I wanted to pick the issues I represented, I would need to strike out on my own.
But I knew I wasn’t ready to go alone. I needed to gain more experience first. I worked at another, smaller agency, where I gained experience in corporate PR and then, finally, worked at a nonprofit trade organization as their marketing director.
Four years went by before I felt prepared to strike out alone. My consulting business has taken many twists and turns for the past 5 and a half years, but one thing has remained constant.
I’ve stayed true to my commitment to only work with clients whose ideas and projects I believe in.
I’ve turned away more business than I’ve accepted, and the projects I do take on are incredibly fulfilling. Even though the sectors I work in vary dramatically, I get a lot of personal joy from being a part of my clients’ successes.
In other words…
Never believe anyone who tells you that you can’t pick your clients!
I’ve recently started to see how forging my own path allows me the freedom to take on meaningful personal projects as well. A good example of this is when I took 2 weeks off to volunteer on a presidential campaign in 2016.
I wanted to share my story with you today, because I know how important it is to work with people who are aligned with your values.
I have a lot of new projects that I’m eager to share with you, but first, I wanted to take this moment to help you understand why I do this work and what drives me.
I’ll be back very soon with an update on what’s on deck for 2017.
Happy New Year!
I’m heading out in a few to make some final preparations for a Chrismukkuh celebration I’m hosting on Sunday. My husband and I are having a small gathering of friends over for latkes and board games and (if all goes well) lots of laughter.
I know you may be already signed out for the holidays, but I’m also very aware that not everyone feels particularly merry or happy this time of year. Not just on a personal level, but the feeling that you haven’t met all your goals can infect the season with a sense of dissatisfaction.
If this is you, or even if it’s not, I wanted to pop in and urge you to spend a little time in reflection of all that went well this year.
It’s natural to look at your balance sheets or email list and think about how much better the year could have gone.
“I know I should have run some Facebook campaigns this year…”
“I STILL haven’t learned the first thing about SEO…”
“If only I’d hired Brigitte back in June, all my problems would be solved by now.” ;-)
This type of analysis can be very useful, and pushing yourself and your organization to do better is part of your role as a leader.
But if you don’t balance this reflection out with an equally in-depth look at what went well, you’re missing a huge part of the equation.
What can you learn from all the progress you’ve made?
All the revenue that you brought in this year represents things you did well. What specific triggers helped convert those potential customers into buyers? What can you learn from your success?
All the customers and clients and email list subscribers are individuals who have entrusted you with their most valuable resources — their time and attention.
None of us are owed another human’s attention — this is a gift that is earned. Even if you have just one subscriber, celebrate that gift. It is an accomplishment.
What can you learn from the people who have entrusted you with their investment?
What would your business look like this time next year if you not only focused on problem areas but also chose to double down on the strategies and tactics that are working?
Because I guarantee you, there’s a lot you’re getting right. That’s something worth celebrating.
A quick note before we get to today’s content. Today is the last day to save $100 on the 50 Day Blog Boost. We kick off January 9th, and if this is exactly the program you need in the new year, I hope you’ll take advantage of this amazing early bird offer.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
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As a PR pro, I have a complicated relationship with blogging. On the one hand, the proliferation of voices is an overwhelming positive phenomenon. The structures that existed before blogs and podcasts often were not welcoming to small business marketers, not to mention people of color, women and disadvantaged communities.
If you weren’t already a part of the power structure, it was difficult to break into the conversation being facilitated through traditional media. Part of this was a simple space issue — before media went online, there was a finite amount of space that could be dedicated to rising voices.
At the same time, it’s been hard for me to witness the erosion of traditional media. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I can tell you that the life of a journalist is hard one. They work long hours for very little pay, with virtually no job security and in the face of constant criticism.
When you look at career rankings, journalists are always put at the bottom. For 2016, newspaper reporter is ranked at the bottom of a list of 200 careers due to the stressful working conditions and terrible pay.
In many ways, the rise of blogging has directly contributed to worsening conditions for journalists, as advertising dollars have been re-allocated. This is really hard for me to watch.
Despite that, I feel strongly that the good outweighs the bad. And clearly, I believe blogging is a powerful tool for your business.
But there are signs that blogs are about to hit a rough patch, if we’re not in troubled waters already.
As blogging has gone mainstream, I’m seeing a homogenization of voices online.
Five, ten years ago, blogging was still largely a casual thing people did for fun. It felt easy for newcomers to jump in, because it was all so experimental. Everyone was figuring out the platform, and that gave rise to so many different styles and topics.
But what I’ve seen in the past few years is a leveling out, a flattening of the platform. As more and more people recognize the potential in content creation to market their businesses, there is a great clamor for the magic formula that will build up your audience. All our blogs are starting to look and feel the same.
I’ve been guilty of this, too. It’s so easy to subconsciously mirror content models you see online, especially when you’re a fan and get a lot out of them.
I strongly believe we should collectively guard against this tendency.
As small business marketers, we’re starting to lose what made blogging so great to begin with.
The reason so many flocked to blogs early on is that you could find your people — those creators that were tapping into the feelings and interests you thought no one else shared. The writers and artists and business leaders that felt like a breath of fresh air in a sea of sameness.
The pressure to conform and to “do it right” is especially strong if your blog is a marketing channel. The stakes are higher, because you need to see a return on your effort.
But what gets lost along the way is your voice, and for a small business or nonprofit, your voice is your most valuable asset.
Why is it that a customer visits a local coffee shop and not Starbucks?
Why do they hire an independent designer and not a large web studio?
Usually, it’s because of the point of view you represent. You’re able to communicate your company’s values and priorities much more clearly, because you know you can’t appeal to everyone.
Mass market is crazy expensive. That’s why only the big brands do even attempt it.
It’s much more cost effective to be exclusive with your marketing than to try and include everyone.
But make no mistake, it takes practice to find your voice, especially if you’re well-practiced in saying what others want to hear or have been criticized for being too loud or opinionated.
In blogging, the practice is putting your work out there. You have to be willing to test out your ideas in public and prepared to fall flat a few times.
And so you retreat into what feels like safety.
Not lending your voice to the conversation. Or bending it to someone else’s formula.
But there is no such thing as a safe choice in staking out a claim for your work. Everything you put out tells a story — and the biggest story of all is told when you stay silent.
People trust companies and organizations that they can rely on to be there when they need them. If you don’t have a physical storefront they can visit, that’s what your content offers. Proof that you show up, that you’re reliable. That you’re on their side.
If you’ve been blogging a long time like I have, or are just starting out, I want to encourage you to guard against the tendency to flatten your voice and to conform your content.
Here are some thing I’m personally watching out for:
- Feeling like I “should” do x, y or z with my content.
- Prioritizing content that can be backed up with data or third-party sources over my own ideas.
- Editing out my personal story and experiences.
- Asking, “Does anybody care?” or even “Is this useful” instead of “Is this thought provoking?”
- Feeling like I can’t implement new ideas, or ticking too long to formats that don’t work, because I feel like I have to follow through.
I’m renewing my commitment right here and now to keep pushing forward. I hope you’ll join me.
And hopefully we can have some fun along the way, too.